The Economist: The NRA Shouldn't Be So Powerful

The Economist has been described as a classically liberal publication. In other words, it’s supposedly fairly libertarian in its focus. It’s supposed to be an intelligent magazine for those who ascribe to free-market economics.

But their intelligence abandoned them when they decided to publish a post on Friday questioning why the NRA has the pull it does.

Mass shootings, if they provoke any reaction at all, produce piddling proposals which still cannot be passed. A modest initiative after the Las Vegas shooting to ban bump stocks has stalled. Jeff Flake, a Republican senator, has introduced a bill which would prevent those convicted of domestic abuse in military courts from acquiring guns. It is likely to go nowhere: even after the massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, the Senate rejected a bill to expand background checks.

America’s powerful gun lobby, of which the National Rifle Association (NRA) is the most prominent group, is able to cow Republican legislators into inaction. Yet the organisation largely represents the extreme views of a minority of gunowners: the NRA claims 5m members, compared with the 17m Americans who hunt or the third of adults who own guns. NRA members are twice as likely to own five or more guns than non-member gunowners, and are twice as likely to carry a gun outside their house all or most of the time. Their policy preferences are much more hostile to any gun control. In the recent Virginia election, exit polls show that 37% of gunowners backed Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate, for governor. Should such moderates organise effectively, they may be able to snap the NRA’s stranglehold over gun policy.

First, let’s talk about Jeff Flake’s bill. It’s a bill that will likely go nowhere because it’s already the freaking law. People convicted of domestic violence in any court, military or otherwise, are legally barred from purchasing firearms. However, the Air Force
failed to enter the conviction into the NICS.

He wasn’t given a pass because it was a military court, it was simply a failure to input data on the Air Force’s part.

Second, let’s talk a bit about the NRA and the views it represents. The Economist argues it represents “the extreme views of a minority of gunowners [sic]” yet presents no real evidence of that except how many more guns they owned and how they voted in Virginia, a fairly blue state these days. Nothing is presented to explain just how the NRA’s position that we’ve already given enough ground on a constitutionally protected right is somehow extreme.

It’s not. It actually represents the position of a large portion of gun owners…and a lot of other people who own no firearms at all, yet believe the Second Amendment means what it says. This includes many of the 17 million hunters cited and the third of all adults who own a gun, many of whom are part of that 5 million in the NRA but many others who aren’t.

But why is the membership number so low in relation to the numbers of gun owners?

Well, there are a lot of reasons. One is that some people just don’t care enough about gun rights to bother, which are probably who The Economist is thinking about. Yet, based on my experience with actual gun owners, those are a distinct few.

Many of the rest have other reasons for not being part of the NRA despite aligning politically with the organization’s goals. One big one I hear is that people are sick of paying for a membership, only to feel harassed by the NRA for more donations.

That’s it.

Nothing nefarious, it’s just they don’t like being hit up for donations after paying annual dues. In fairness, who does? While I get why the NRA does it, it’s annoying to an extreme, and stuff like that is why the NRA’s membership number is relatively low compared to the number of gun owners in the country.


End of discussion.

Why is the NRA so powerful, though? Because even if a gun rights advocate refuses to be part of the NRA, they are still likely to follow the organization’s lead when it comes to voting. They use the NRA’s grades to judge politicians and they tend to back NRA backed candidates. They mobilize just like the membership.

Don’t believe me?

Look at the bloodbath the Democrats “enjoyed” after passing the Assault Weapon Ban in 1994. That was NRA led, and the membership dynamics haven’t changed all that much over the years.